Past experience has taught professionals within the Scottish justice system to tread carefully when faced with three-letter acronyms starting with ‘p’. After all, PPPs – public private partnerships – and PFIs – private finance initiatives – do not exactly trigger happy memories. It is of little surprise then that Kenny MacAskill admits his immediate reaction to the mention of PSPs – public social partnerships – was to “balk”. It was, he thought, a bad omen.
A year into the Reducing Reoffending Change Fund (RRCF) – created to support PSPs focused on mentoring for prolific male offenders and women offenders – the Cabinet Secretary says, with a palpable sense of relief, his instincts were hasty. “We see them as a model we want to go down and to pursue,” he tells Holyrood.
The model has its merits. First trialed in Scotland seven years ago, ahead of a more extensive programme involving ten PSP pilots – one within criminal justice – being launched in November 2009, the underlying logic is that public and third sector bodies will co-design and deliver services against agreed social outcomes. It promised a fresh approach that recognised a number of stakeholders could contribute their own expertise within a ‘partnership of equals’.
“This was not about growing reach for organisations into new business where they weren’t,” says Tom Halpin, chief executive of Sacro, which leads a PSP granted £2.7m back in June – one of six backed through to March 2015 as part of the RRCF delivery phase – to establish a national mentoring service for women offenders. “This was about delivering to their strength. That means that organisations are represented in the partnership in-keeping with the needs of the women relating to the abilities and span of those organisations. What we have learned in this partnership is that actually giving up some positional power, if you want to call it that, results in a positive outcome that is greater than the sum of the parts.” Demand across Scotland and the needs of women targeted – more than 170 have received or are receiving support today under the terms of the partnership against a total service-level agreement of 720 – were assessed before agreement was reached on who would be in the partnership, adds Halpin.
Expanding collaboration is not without its complexities, however. A more ambitious approach that seeks to build upon the ‘single local authority, single third sector organisation’ set-up that the Scottish Government dipped its toe in the water with back in 2009 undoubtedly begs the question of how benefits and, allied to that, costs, are distributed. “If you take the national example, you have got between 40 and 50 public sector organisations as stakeholders, so it becomes a lot more complicated about, a) how much do each of them pay, and, b) who commissions at the end of the period,” says Jim Hunter, chief officer for the North Strathclyde Community Justice Authority (CJA), which is a part of the two national PSPs government allocated a total of £4.6m to.
“We’re still struggling with that and working along with COSLA [Convention of Scottish Local Authorities] and [Scottish] Government to resolve that before 2015. And we’re confident that we will but it’s not as simple as the 10 [pilot] PSPs – it’s a lot more complicated. And trying to identify among the 40 or 50 public sector organisations who will get cashable savings if the PSPs are successful is even more difficult. To be frank with you, it’s a no-brainer that if they are successful, the Scottish Prison Service, all things being equal, should see a reduction in its prison population, Scottish police should see a reduction in the number of reports they are producing, fiscal service in the number of cases they are prosecuting, and the court service. Now that’s four national organisations, none of which really commissions community justice services and yet they are the big gainers out of this.”
That has contributed to a concern over sustainability. Local authorities were assumed to be future funders in less than 18 months time. However, the top-down nature of the Change Fund, and the limited timescales for projects to demonstrate progress, has left serious questions over their intention to do so. That much was underlined in a paper that went before COSLA’s resources and capacity executive group in September that warned local government was being asked to agree to a “leap of faith” three years in advance of overall budgets being known.
“At the outset, you needed to have had a period to build foundations so that you can agree what success looks like and to provide the necessary room to work out some of the detail around the sustainable funding of a programme. In the rush, we weren’t able to do this as well as was needed,” says a COSLA spokeswoman, caveating the criticism by saying concerns over the PSP bid fund do not reflect a broader concern about strategic ‘bottom-up’ PSPs shown to work well.
“A project may be successful in its own right but you could also assess it as not being successful for the locality in comparison to other local provision or with what needs to go in order to make room for this new service. You need to spend time working out what success looks like for the programme and also what success would be in terms of the other local provision. That’s a subtle but important distinction as we are not talking about allocating a fresh pot of money, but about redistributing funds. Ideally, savings generated would pay for the investment but the absence of those visible savings at this point in time means funding would need to be reallocated and something, somewhere else, has got to stop being done.”
Much work has since been put in to establish more robust criteria for what successful outcomes might look like but a significant evidence base is unlikely to emerge during the short lifespan of the current fund, she adds. “From where we are now to when the funding ends, it seems unlikely that local authorities and other partners will have sufficient evidence to justify disinvesting in one set of provision in order to go with the mentoring programme. It is also unlikely that savings will be realised within the lifetime of the mentoring programme which would justify other public bodies contributing to sustained funding. Even if the will is there, there simply may not be means by which to justify the decision. This causes a problem as all partners support the ambition of the fund.”
It would seem they are not alone. Survey results of PSP partners involved in year one of the RRCF – devoted to supporting the development of partnerships or to the expansion of existing mentoring interventions – found that just over half (54 per cent) reported that they were confident the services will be maintained by public sector partners beyond March 2015 if outcomes are met.
Against this backdrop, an options paper was to be taken to the funding group that sits under the Scottish Government’s Reducing Reoffending Programme Phase 2 board last week, encompassing an analysis of difficulties faced and potential solutions. Three options – the Scottish Government picks up the tab given anticipated savings for prisons, police and the courts; involvement of the philanthropic organisation, Inspiring Scotland; and taking the money out of existing funding by ceasing to do something else – have initially been tabled to kick-start conversations, Holyrood understands. In the interim, calls have been reiterated to sustain existing PSPs for another twelve months through to 2016.
“We have had a successful launch which included two women who work with Barnardo’s telling their story and the reality is that this is not just life changing for them, actually, one of them described it as life saving,” says Halpin. “This clearly shows case studies that evidence this works. The challenge we face at the moment is to collate all the data, all the evidence that supports these stories, and we are only months into this and already we are looking towards year two of a two-year funding envelope.
“All the partners agree that this is a very tight timescale and we would welcome the opportunity to have discussions on a third year’s funding to allow us to gain the evidence because it is a big decision to make in terms of sustainability, going forward. This is a new service, a new intervention for women across Scotland, and it deserves to be taken seriously.”
It would be “inconceivable” that money put in the Scottish budget this year for the 2015-16 fund would be used for a 12-month pilot for new projects, adds Hunter. COSLA remains less prescriptive, saying there is a case for ministers being asked to extend funding “not indefinitely but for a period sufficient” for an evidence base to emerge that would allow an informed judgment to be made as to its success. Until an extension is announced, though, the six PSPs must continue to operate on the basis they have less than 18 months left to prove themselves.
It is a prospect that Angela Morgan, chief executive of Includem, which was awarded £311,000 to deliver a programme of intensive support and mentoring to problem young offenders in and around Glasgow, seems not all that daunted by. The third sector organisation enjoyed a “huge advantage”, though, given work undertaken through the Change Fund has been built on a piece of work that had already been carried out. For around three years, Includem worked with the legacy Strathclyde Police force to target the hardest-to-reach 14 to 17 year-olds that were on the cusp of entering the adult justice system. Funding earlier this year allowed that work to be extended to those up to the age of 21. Seventy young people are to be dealt with via the Change Fund over and above the 48 under the age of 17 progressing through a similar pathway. Among other things, crime statistics from before, during and after individuals’ involvement are being monitored, while savings in costs in court appearances and police time are being looked at. A representative from health joined their governance group last week, so too from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in the hope of mapping the impact on the benefits system of work carried out.
“We’re in an environment where all any organisation or partnership can do is do as much to control its own destiny as possible,” says Morgan. “If the policy environment is one in which people are trying to move towards preventative spend and invest to save, we think we’re going to have a good story to tell and actually, if the picture that does emerge is one that shows something different, then we need to know that as well. From that point of view, two years at the moment is actually quite a good period for funding. We’ve got a lot of services running on one year and we’re having to do similar processes – it’s just that they haven’t got the same access to data. This is allowing us to get access to data and analysis so we have to see it as an opportunity.”
Still, if sustainability issues for large national and regional partnerships are to be resolved, then March 2015 is not necessarily the cut-off. “The sustainability issues should be resolved within the next 12 months,” says Hunter. “If they’re not resolved within the next 12 months then what will happen is staff will start leaking, first of all from the Reducing Reoffending PSPs as they come up towards the end of their pilot period if there is no guarantee that there are arrangements in place to continue them and they’ll find it difficult to recruit and what not, so it really needs to be finished by the middle of next year.”
MacAskill says he is “happy to engage and discuss” with local government in light of concerns over the programme, albeit intimating that they have a clear part to play in carrying it forward long term. “We are providing the additional funding that is necessary to get this going,” he says. “But housing is their responsibility in local authority areas, social services are their responsibility. So this is about partnership working, it’s not about having arguments over who does what. At the end of the day, we all face financial challenges and I appreciate the challenges faced by local authorities. But exactly the same as the Scottish Prison Service has statutory responsibilities, so do Scottish local authorities, and it is how we work together that has been the success of this model.”
A meeting between COSLA and Scottish Government officials took place last month, though COSLA presumes that there will need to be a political conversation between local government and ministers over next steps at some point. “This is a new process so it hasn’t caused relationship damage,” the COSLA spokeswoman tells Holyrood. “It’s a relatively small amount of money but it’s an important area and we are working with all partners to seek a solution. However, where we have a precedent, particularly for the terms and management of ‘bid funds’, we are normally quite attentive to what happens. If this model is to be used again then lessons need to be learnt to avoid local government having a bigger problem with it.”
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